And A Slightly Premature Happy New Year.

Our favourite special occasion restaurant (as opposed to our favourite 'whenever we fancy eating out' restaurant), has just posted its cocktail selection on FaceBook. So their photos help me to wish you all the best for 2015, and at the same time point out that it's not just the view; it's what you can drink while you're enjoying the view.


Season's Greetings

I hope that all of you have enjoyed as good a Christmas as I have. Let's see what 2015 brings.


It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

In Spain Christmas doesn't really get under way until after the feast of The Immaculate Conception which falls on 8th of December. Two items in particular may be considered foods closely associated with the season; a 'proper' ham and suckling pig. All the family get together on Christmas Eve in the same way that we have our big meal on Christmas Day. So, if you are a numerous family, then instead of packets or freshly sliced ham, you need to go the whole hog - or one back leg certainly. I spare you the sight of the suckling pigs lest you are squeamish, but here are a couple of photos I took this morning of the hams on display. There are three grades of 'jamón'. There is Jamón Serrano which I suppose everyone is familiar with. This is the cured ham from the standard white footed pig that provides the vast majority of the pork eaten here. Then, a grade higher is Jamón Ibérica, which comes from the black footed Iberian pig. Then there is Jamón Bellota, from black footed Iberian pigs which have been turned out to feast on the fallen acorns, which give the ham its fine flavour. And the greatest of all is Bellota which is produce in the country around the town of Jabugo in Extremadura. That is superb (Iam told) and costs an absolute fortune.


Quiet Time

Half term holidays are behind us, so the family holiday makers have long departed. Christmas and New Year are still a month away, and so those who holiday over the Christmas season have yet to arrive. The tourist coaches still visit the village, at the weekends as many as seven at a time. Now though they bring Spanish pensioners who dismount their coach and climb into the tourist train - or wally-trolley, as we call it - for a tour of the village. After that it's find somewhere for a drink, then back onto the coach and away. In response to this annual dose of the doldrums many shops and restaurants close until Christmas, some for even longer, next opening at the end of February or later. The restaurants that do remain open do reasonably well as people look for alternatives to their regular haunts, but it is still probable that you will get a table without booking ahead. After the temperatures dropped a few weeks ago, an anticyclone last week lifted them again last week into the low twenties. This rise was accompanied by strong easterly winds - El Levante - which severely rattled shutters and blinds and deposited a thin film of Saharan sand on everywhere. Thankfully the wind dropped on Sunday and we've had a couple of really pleasant, sunny, mild days. Today's forecast from the official Spanish weather agency issues a yellow warning for high winds and heavy rain from midnight tonight until Saturday, so once again we'll batten down the hatches and uncork a bottle from the rack. At least it will wash away all the sand!


New Political Parties

In Spain two new parties have emerged to challenge the dominance of PP and PSOE. The first on the scene was UPyD (Unión, Progreso y Democracy),which was formed at the end of 2007, the principal founders being Rosa Díez, Mikel Buesa and Fernando Savater, with Rosa Díez as leader. In 2009 she won a seat in the European Parliament, one of the 54 allocated to Spain. The party suffered a setback when in July 2009 Mikel Buesa resigned from the party in protest at what he saw as Rosa Díez”s authoritarian manner. Since then it has recovered and grown so that in May of this year it won four seats in the European elections, and was soon rated third most popular party after the two big parties. However, another new party has grown even more rapidly to the point where it now has 250,000 members, more than either of the two main parties., even though it was only formed in January of this year.In May it received 8% of the votes, taking 5 seats in the European Parliament Podemos (We Can), led by an academic from the Complutense University of Madrid, Pablo Iglesias, has its origins in the mass demonstrations and occupations of 2011, when several thousand people descended on La Puerta del Sol, the Plaza in Madrid from which distances from the capital are measured, and in 58 other cities around Spain. This movement was variously known as Movimiento 15M (named after the 15th May when these demonstrations took place) or Los Indignados (The Indignant Ones). This was a widespread protest at what was seen as the mishandling of the banking crisis, whereby the public at large were required to make good the financial cost of bailing out the banks, a debt that they had not incurred, but which they were being made to repay. That movement eventually fizzled out as it had no coherent structure and no policies apart from the issue which had brought people onto the streets; it has now resurfaced as Podemos with a charismatic leader and has grown so rapidly that a recent opinion poll puts support for Podemos higher than for PP and PSOE. That is worrying, if sustained, because in Spain you vote for the party, not the individual, and so when elections come in October of next year Spain could see a party elected to government which did not exist two years earlier, and from which so far nothing in the way of a manifesto has emerged, apart from its opposition to the corruption which has become endemic in Spanish politics, something which UPyD also opposes. It remains to be seen whether Podemos is a viable political entity or whether, like a firework, it soars high into the sky only to explode and die.


Enough Is Enough, Or "Basta Ya" As My Neighbours Would Say

I referred last time to important things happening in Spanish politics at the moment. The interesting thing to me is that these things parallel attitudes to politics and politicians in the UK. The similarities between the two countries are quite striking. For many years power has passed back and forth between two major parties, Conservative and Labour in the UK, Partido Popular and PSOE in Spain, on the right and left respectively. Increasingly, disillusion with politics has been growing in both countries. The main accusation levelled against politicians is that they are out of touch with the needs and concerns of the citizens, and care little for the voters except at election time.In both countries these ‘facts’ were accepted with a large helping of resignation. And then corruption reared its head. This came as something of a shock to the British who had long laboured under the delusion that corruption was not a British custom. The expenses scandal, which revealed just how much many MPs had been milking the system to their own financial benefit changed all that, and spawned a wave of revulsion and distrust of politicians and all things political. In Spain corruption had long been accepted as endemic and people paid little heed unless affected personally. That is now changing as day after day the true extent of it comes to light. Recently it emerged that more than eighty politicians had been using ‘tarjetas negras (black cards) issued to them by the bank, Caja Madrid but kept secret, for everything from weekly groceries to high value luxury items. No repayments were ever sought of this expenditure which amounted to more than fifteen million euros, and when Caja Madrid was absorbed into Bankia, the service continued. This came on the heels of the discovery that a past official of the Partido Popular had maintained a secret slush fund from which payments were made to favoured senior party members. And most recently, the Guardian reported on 27th October that 51 politicians, public officials and business leaders across Spain had been arrested as part of an investigation into a corrupt network involving the awarding of contracts to a value of over €250 million. This is the latest wave of arrests; no one expects it to be the last. In the UK and in Spain, 2015 will see a general election, in which a significant question will be whether two party politics will prove to be a thing of the past. UKIP is the main focus in Britain, though results for both the Greens and the Lib Dems will be viewed with interest. In Spain, interest is in two young parties - UPyD which was formed seven years ago, and Podemos (We Can), which appeared on the scene officially in January of this year but already has more than 250 thousand members, and which won five of Spain’s allocation of 54 seats in the European Union elections in May, against UPyD’s four seats. A point of difference between Britain and Spain is that neither of these parties is drawn from the right, unlike UKIP, which may now be widening its appeal, but clearly has rightwing roots.Because they point the possible way to a new engagement of the public with the whole business of representative politics that might also have application to Britain,I'll look at these parties in a bit more detail next time.


So Catalonia Votes For Independence? Not Necessarily

Yesterday the people of Catalonia were invited by their regional government to take part in a participation exercise. This rather odd name had been adopted because the Constitutional Court in Madrid had, at the Government's request, agreed to consider whether a referendum could be legally held without Madrid’s permission. The Court ruled that all referendum plans and activity should be suspended until it had considered the case and announced its decision. In order to avoid any suggestion that a ‘participation’ might be a referendum in disguise, no official polling stations were used, no Catalan officials manned the voting stations, and voter registration was not required; the Catalan government took no part - except today to triumphantly announce the result. Over two million people voted and 80% of these were in favour of Catalonia becoming an independent state. However, before we are tempted to compare this result with that of the independence referendum held in Scotland, it would be wise to take a number of differences into account. I spent many years working in the field of consumer and social research, and so I am used to analysing and interpreting statistics. A basic principle is that the only way to know what everyone thinks is to ask everyone. That is so rarely possible that the survey researcher’s task is to draw up a sample of people to be interviewed which will (within certain knowable limits) accurately reflect the views of the entire population. Where both the Scottish and the Catalan exercises fall short of a ‘proper’ sample, is that in neither case was voting compulsory; in other words, people were free to choose whether they would bother to vote or not. In Scotland, the referendum and the question asked had been approved by the UK Government. It was a legal referendum which the Government said that it would take heed of. In that context, around 80% of those on the electoral registers voted, and the result (55% ’No’ v 45% ‘Yes’) was clear and the gap was wide enough to be able to say that overall the Scottish people had rejected independence. In Catalonia, by comparison, just under half the 5.4 million people entitled to vote did so, and their 80% vote in favour of independence looks pretty convincing. It may look convincing, but there are a number of things to be taken into account. Firstly, the consultation had no legal standing. How many of the people who didn’t vote failed to do so for that reason? Someone may carry out a survey to look into that, but right now we don’t know. Secondly, we have been told that 5.4 million people were entitled to vote, but there was no electoral register to tally votes against. No polling card entitling you to vote. I remember many years ago hearing the joke about Northern Ireland politics that the key slogan was “Vote early; vote often”. How many people yesterday voted more than once? We simply do not and cannot know, but human nature being what it is, I’m absolutely sure that some did. All they needed to do was leave one polling station and then head for another one on the other side of town. Thirdly, and crucially, whilst in Scotland the turnout was high enough for us not to be too concerned about how non-voters might have voted, in Catalonia just over half of the people entitled to vote didn’t. With a group that size it is not possible to confidently suggest that the way that their vote would have split can be assumed to be in line with the split amongst those who did vote. In social research terms, a self-selecting group of people who represent only half of the group whose views were being sought, cannot be used to draw any inferences at all about the likely responses from the self-selecting group of approximately half of the total, who chose not to vote. Obviously we are talking about politics. Claims will be made by those who support Catalan independence that this is a stunning victory, and a clear indication of the will of the majority of the Catalan people. They can say that, but they are wrong. There are other, possibly more important, things happening in Spanish politics right now. I’ll talk about some of those next time.


A Wild Night

As we moved through September, the fierce heat of August quickly subsided and settled in the mid to high twenties. And stayed there, which is unusual. We have had the pleasure of an extended period of warm weather to such an extent that I was still in shorts and sandals on my birthday last Saturday. But all good things come to an end, they say, and that certainly happened last night. The Spanish equivalent of Britain’s Met Office, AEMET, is pretty accurate and they put out an amber alert for our area from midnight last night until midday today for heavy rain and high winds., coupled with a sharp drop in temperatures. Sure enough, in the small hours we were wakened by the sound of two chairs and a table careering from one end of our balcony to the other, and then back again, and then off again. Winds were gusting over 50mph (84kmh, if you want it in Spanish) and stuff that was neither stowed away nor tied down could be heard moving around all over the village. We used to get this kind of wind when we lived in Ramsbottomm, but there we were down in the valley bottom, so it roared over us about 100ft up. Here, however, we live at 1100ft on a ridge so the wind comes straight for us. And the rain, too, was as predicted, heavy and prolonged, lashing against the windows. I had to go for my flu jab this morning and once more put on my shorts on the basis that it is much easier to dry wet legs than wet trousers, but by lunchtime my legs were covered and I had put on a cardigan, so I think I’m in transition. Trousers, shoes and socks, but short sleeved shirts for a while longer. Can I hang onto them until Christmas, I wonder. I’ll let you know.


Hollywood Comes To Town

Yet again I find time rolling by between posts. I guess it’s a consequence of writing about life in the village and the wider Spain for six years; when it comes to ‘events’ they usually come around every year and so I’ve already written about them at least once before, and I don’t want to keep repeating myself. However, we do have a local event which has not happened before and which has caused great interest within the village. Tomorrow and Tuesday large parts of the old village - el Barribarto - will be off limits whilst filming is in progress. This is not just some promotional short or documentary. This is a proper film, with a proper story set in 1950s Spain. Calle Real will be closed to motor traffic all day, and a village of the 1950s will be created from our Morisco quarter. Not only that, but on Thursday of last week villagers were queueing right round the Salon de Usos Multiples (the multi-purpose community room) in order to be inspected for possible roles as extras. Great excitement! On a personal note, we were out for lunch with friends of ours who live along the coast at Almuñécar and heard that they have sold their apartment and will be heading back to live in England. At the beginning of August, as we were setting of for a holiday in the UK, another couple, this time from the village, also left for England. In each case the motivation was the same; they wanted to see more of their grandchildren while their grandchildren were still happy to see them. I suppose in that respect we are less concerned as we have always been used to living a long way from our own grandchildren and seeing them only occasionally. Even so, both couples leave a gap in our lives as they were - and are - good friends. Oh, and one final event that has filled me with quiet pride; my blog has just passed its nine thousandth visit. Onward to 10,000!


In Fourteen Hundred And Ninety Two, Columbus Sailed The Ocean Blue

So runs the mnemonic taught to British children in my schooldays. Today, 12th October, is a national holiday in Spain. Except, of course, that as no one works on a Sunday, it will be celebrated tomorrow. El Día de la Hispanidad (The Day of Spanishness) is actually the national day of Spain and is also celebrated throughout the former Spanish empire, although one suspects that in South and Central America Simon Bolivar might be accorded greater status, he being the man who effectively liberated the people from the yoke of Spanish colonialism in the nineteenth century. The 12th October, you see, commemorates the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus - funded by Ferdinand and Isabella - made landfall in what are now the Americas. Given the mineral wealth that was discovered there, this was particularly important for Spain at the time, as the Catholic Monarchs had only recently concluded a long and expensive war of reconquest against the Muslim powers who had ruled Spain for the previous seven hundred years, and the royal coffers were seriously depleted. We know this sea captain as Christopher Columbus, which is from the Latin Christophorus Columbus, but to the Spanish he was and is Cristóbal Colón. I mention this because it is from his name and his activities on this and subsequent voyages across the Atlantic that we get the words colony, colonial, colonist and colonise. And speaking of words deriving from people, the liberator of Latin America from colonial rule, gave his name to the country, Bolivia, to the Venezuelan currency unit, the bolívar, and indeed to the official title of the country, The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.


Then And Now

I was looking at a painting on my living room wall recently. I painted it in 1997, but it had lain neglected with other paintings until about a year ago. What struck me most was that the lomas (ridges beyond the village) were barren and empty. The land was what is known as secano, non-irrigated land.
What a difference today. The construction boom that began not long after this was painted, and which was fuelled by people from Northern Europe looking for holiday homes in the sun, led to a rash of new villas springing up everywhere. The photos were taken from my balcony a few minutes ago.



The Tapas Tradition

.I have heard a number of accounts of the origin of the tapa. I don't know which one is true,if any of them, so I'm not going to go into that. However, in a local online newsletter the other day, a lady posted quite a harsh criticism of a bar she had visited with friends. She complained that when they asked for tapas they were told that they could not have them outside, only at the bar.
So, for those of you heading down here for a visit, here are a couple of things you should know. Traditionally men would drop into their local bar after the day's work to share a drink or two and a chat with their friends. They would sit or stand at the bar. With their drink they would often be served a morsel of food - a tapa. After a couple of drinks they would head off home to eat.
Occasionally - very occasionally in the days I'm talking about - they would want something more substantial than the tapa. In that case they would sit down at a table and order a 'ración' ( a portion) or a 'media ración' (half portion) of whatever was available. A half portion is about the size of a starter, and a portion is equivalent to a main course.
So the lady was offended by a simple fact of life in a Spanish bar catering mainly for Spanish customers; you eat tapas at the bar and tables are for people who want something more substantial. Foreign owned bars and bars aimed at holiday makers may very well serve you with tapas wherever you sit, the Spanish probably won't.
Something else that is useful to know. If you order a drink and the owner or waiter brings you a tapa without being asked then it will be free. And if he brings you something with every drink, those too will be free. You will pay only for the drinks. Of course you are perfectly entitled to browse the tapas display and ask for whatever takes your fancy, but if you do that you will be charged for your tapas. It's no longer a gesture of hospitality; it's a purchase.
I hope you get to sample lots of tapas standing with the crowd at the bar.


Described By A Cake

Forty years ago we were living on a new estate in the northwest of England with our two small daughters. Next door were another couple, also with two daughters, though three or four years older than ours. The four children became firm friends and that friendship has continued down the years even though three of them have moved south. The fourth, and eldest, girl remained in the North, but through our own daughters we have kept a contact. One of the highlights of our recent stay in the UK was the opportunity for my wife to celebrate her seventieth birthday at a lunch for family and close friends. Which brings me back to Deb, the eldest of the four girls. One of her passions is making and decorating cakes, to which she brings a very high degree of skill and artistry. As two of our friends were travelling down from Lancashire, a thought occurred to me. I would ask Deb to produce a 70th birthday cake. But what should it be like? Here I drew on long unused market research skills, when I used to conduct what are now called focus groups, and in which you would ask people strange questions like, “If Gordon Brown were a car, what car would he be?” I emailed everyone on the invitation list and invited them to email Deb with their answers to the question, “If Mary were a came, what kind of cake would she be?”. Once Deb had had time to digest all the suggestions, a final brief was agreed, the cake was duly made, handed over to our friends to transport to Surrey - they tell me that at every service area stop on the journey down, they gingerly opened the boot of the car to make sure everything was OK - and smuggle into the restaurant where it was put on display ahead of everyone arriving. It came as a complete surprise to Mary and she was delighted with it. From the photo above, I guess you can see why.


Homeward Bound

Four weeks have flown by and on Sunday we head back home to Frigiliana. As you can imagine, it has been a real pleasure to spend an extended period with our granddaughters, one of whom moved up to secondary school on Wednesday. That was a prospect that she faced with some trepidation, but is now taking to like a duck to water, and is already making new friends. Of course as a secondary school pupil she has to have her smartphone - officially so that she can ring Mummy or Daddy if she has any problems, such as missing the school bus, but in reality so that she can join the texting generation; she was highly amused to tell me on Day 1 that she had spotted her friend Martha at the other side of the playground and had texted her to ask how she was, and then Martha texted back and asked where are you, so L texted again to say, “The other side of the yard, and I can see you from here.” We’ve also enjoyed a pretty good English August with temperatures in the low to mid twenties and only the occasional rainy day. That has allowed us to get a lot more exercise than is possible in Spain’s August heat, although that has inevitably been offset by the holiday spirit which involves eating and drink ing more than we would at home. Awaiting me in Spain is an outpatient’s appointment at the local hospital on Thursday and a meeting the following Monday across in Benalmádena at a hospice that I support. A team is to be assembled that will be available throughout the hospice catchment area to visit groups and talk about our work, what services are available and how we are funded. I’ve volunteered to be part of that team, and am really looking forward to it as in the past I’ve done many talks to various different types of growps in the UK about my work, both as a hypnotherapist and later as a magistrate. So I’ve a lot to look forward to, including of course, meeting up once more with friends in the village.


A Wonderful Family Week

It's just the two of us for the rest of today and until we leave to head back to England tomorrow; my daughter and her two children have driven up to Glasgow and fly back tonight to avoid a very long car journey. The weather has been mixed, but the pleasure has been total. Particularly interesting is to see L and N enjoying the self-same activities that absorbed their mother and aunty some forty years ago when they holidayed here at much the same ages - scrambling on the rocks, playing on the putting green and the children's playground, visiting the lifeboat shed shop, spending their money in the amusement arcade (maximum stake, 2p), enjoying watching the farm animals in the field adjoining the cottage, and, of course eating out, especially the fish and chips. Probably I and my two brothers delighted in similar things many more years earlier on our own seaside holidays, and so did my wife. However we try to fit them into the current fashionable educational straitjacket, children - if you let them just be children - don't change from one generation to another.


A Long And Winding Road

One way to deal with the August heat of Frigiliana is to go somewhere else. Which is how I come to be sitting in a conservatory in southern Scotland looking out across brilliant green, sheep-dotted fields to the cliff edge and the Irish Sea beyond. The remedy has turned out to be more painful in many ways than the illness, as it were. Instead of a ferocious sun shining out of a cloudless sky and inflicting temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees upon us, it’s heavy, grey clouds cud dins across the sky at breakneck pace, dumping frequent heavy showers on us and driven by winds of 40kph gusting frequently to 80kph. All this to the accompaniment of 14 degree temperatures, and yes I am talking about daytime. And yet…. I’m delighted to be here where the story of Frigiliana began. Back at the beginning of the 1970s we had recently moved from Oxfordshire to Ramsbottom, north of Manchester. WE had two small daughters and an uncomfortably large mortgage, and holidays did not feature on our list of spending priorities. Then my wife’s parents came up with a suggestion; if they rented a suitably large holiday cottage, could we afford the petrol to get to it? We gratefully said yes we could and they rented a cottage on a farm two miles south of Portpatrick in the extreme southwest of Scotland. That cottage is no more than 200 metres from where I am writing this, although I cannot see it as it sits into the side of the hill. The welcome we received from the farmer and his family, the surroundings, the harbour in Portpatrick ensured a fantastic holiday, and as a family of four we came back and back, sometimes with family members, sometimes with friends, and sometimes just the four of us. Then one year we were late booking and the cottage was already let. This was a terrible disappointment because my wife and I had concluded that it would probably be our last visit; the girls were getting to be that bit too old to be happy stuck on a farm two miles from what passed as ‘the action’ in those days. But fate was on our side. We chanced upon an ad for a holiday apartment actually in the village, yards from the harbour and so Portpatrick took on a new life. We also became friendlier with Eric, the farmer who insisted that we should join him at The Old Mill House, a bar restaurant on the edge of the village, popular with locals and with families from the nearby caravan sites. That, in turn, introduced us to Pat and Judy the owners and good friends of Eric. Pat had spent his working life in the advertising industry in the creative departments of several major London agencies. He was also a gifted water colourist and his paintings were displayed throughout the restaurant. My life at the time was in market research and involved a good deal of contact with ad agencies and so we had much in common and became good friends. Then Pat and Judy, who hitherto had spent the winter cruisingg, decided that they would rather invest their money in something that would give them a holiday facility, but would also be an investment. The outcome was that they bought an old village house “La Casa De Los Arcos” in the Andalusian village of Frigiliana. Shortly afterwards they invited my wife and I and our two daughters to visit them in Spain so we could spend proper leisure time together - Portpatrick for us was holiday; for them it was the busiest time of the year, and so they really didn’t have much time to pause and chat. Well, that first visit, back in 1983, worked its magic on us and led eventually to us coming to Frigiliana to live. Portpatrick turned out to be the unknowing progenitor of this blog. I have just been handed a gin and tonic. I shall go and sit with the others in the conservatory, look out across the grey Irish Sea, and raise my glass in gratitude to the place where it all started.



I’ve been writing this blog for six years now, and I’ve covered a lot of ground - local and national fiestas and public holidays, fairs, festivals, and other cultural events. I’ve written about the village, the surrounding countryside, and further afield. I’ve blogged about politics, employment problems. I’ve told you about Spanish food, and wine. All sprinkled with a fair number of photos where I could, to add interest. But there is one hugely important area that I don’t believe I have ever written about. Friends. Well, it’s about time that I put that right. What prompted me to think of this omission was the imminent departure - next Monday - of two of the first people that we got to know when we arrived in 2008. They, like us, have young grandchildren and they miss not seeing them more often than they do. They are aware that young grandchildren don’t stay young for very long and they want to be part of their growing up. So they have sold the house, sold the car, packed up the stuff they want in England and next week they wave goodbye to the August heat and head for the next stage of their life close to family. We shall miss them. If my wife and I were living here in isolation, on nodding terms with our Spanish neighbours,but otherwise just the two of us, I suspect that we would have been off back to England long before our friends. But Frigiliana is not like that. It has a large expat community - around a quarter of the population - with people drawn from the UK, large parts of northern Europe, and further afield; US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Africa. So we have Dutch and Scandinavian friends, as well as English, Irish, Scots and Welsh. Yesterday for instance we went down to the weekly market and then met up with an English friend whom we joined for a coffee and a chat, and then were joined by her Aussie friend, and so stayed chatting longer. On the way home, we came across another group of friends enjoying a drink outside one of the bars, and paused to pass the time of day. That’s the way it works. A couple of weeks ago we arranged to meet up with a friend one evening for tapas and a glass or two of wine. We sat there chatting and then along came two more good friends who sat down and joined us for a really enjoyable evening. Once a week we pop across the road to a local restaurant, and there we always run into a whole crowd of friends. But the friendships I have found here go deeper than that. This time last year I blogged a number of times about my diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer, which I took pretty much in my stride. I couldn’t have done that alone. A number of friends - if they read this they will know who they are - had already trodden the road I was called upon to walk. Their experience, their support, but most of all their concern gave me the strength to know that I could deal with that episode in my life; I couldn’t have done it without them, or without the others who didn’t share the experience but still showed the level of their concern for me and my well-being during that difficult time. I’ve just read this over and corrected a couple of typos. Reading it, I can’t imagine how I’ve managed to blether on for so many years without touching on this subject before. We’re off to England on holiday very soon. I look forward to seeing all these lovely people again on my return.



….that is the word which sums up the prevailing mood right now.I have spent three days intending to sit down at the keyboard and get on with this, but never quite summoned up the energy until now: worse, I’ve known the theme since last weekend. But then, it’s nearly the end of July and August is bearing down fast, and it does make a difference. Everyone agrees that it is hot. Some simply frame it as a bald statement, “It is hot!”, whilst others dress it up as a question, “Isn’t it hot?” However it is expressed though there is agreement; it is hot. There is, though, an unspoken word, on no one’s lips, but implicit in their tone, and that word is, “unpleasantly”. Thereafter, the heat being the only common topic of conversation, differences of opinion begin to emerge. There is the camp which asserts that this year is hotter than last year, and there are those who insist that it may be hot (of course, it’s hot; we all agree!), but it is not as hot as last year. I have to admit that I don’t have the detailed memory necessary to join one camp or the other. I just know it’s hot. If you want an idea of how hot, my Accuweather app tells me that right now in Frigiliana (16.00), the actual temperature is 32 degrees, but the real feel is 36 degrees. Sorry, it’s just too hot to write any more today; I shall now sink back into lethargy.


A Night To Remmber

The week began with high drama as a nearby mountain went up in flames, and then on Friday we had drama of a different kind. Although Frigiliana is only a small village, the town council is at great pains to promote the cultural history of the area as well as provide a rich cultural programme of events for the residents. Friday evening saw us seated in the patio of La Casa del Apero, the cultural centre, in eager anticipation of an evening of flamenco. This being July, we had ample opportunity to eat before setting out, as the first part of the evening, a talk on the history and development of flamenco, was not scheduled to start until ten o’clock when the heat of the day had died down. And this being Andalucia, ten o’clock was not to be taken literally, but at ten thirty, Sebastián Navas, a well-known and highly respected cantaor of the region mounted the stage to give the history of the art. It is often said that flamenco is the gypsy music of Spain, and it is true that its origins can be traced back to the cities of Cádiz and Sevilla, both of which have large gitano communities. In fact, flamenco is far, far older than this. It dates all the way back into the pre-Christian era when the city of Gadir was founded by the Phoenicians, who brought their music with them. That music represented the roots of flamenco, and the city became Cádiz, the longest established European city still in existence. Into that root stock were grafted the music of the Jews, who arrived shortly afterwards, and of the people of the Maghreb who came trading from the southern shores of the Mediterranean. The arrival, reign and ultimate expulsion of the Moors - Muslims from Arabia, the Middle East and North Africa - allowed further development of a distinctive style of vernacular music over a period of 800 years. Of particular significance at the end of this period were the sung laments or quejidos of the dispossessed Muslims, bringing the characteristic harsh and plaintive, tone which is the hallmark of much present day dante, especially the dante hondo (deep song). Sebastián then proceeded to treat us to a selection of different forms and styles of cante. The joy of this part of the evening was the fact that this was no specially designed and sanitised show for the benefit of the tourist trade, but the authentic voice of a true, dedicated cantor, singing from the heart and the soul. A brief pause while the stage was reset, and then another wholly authentic performance was delivered by dancer Joaquín Ruiz, accompanied by a guitarist, two cantaorasi(female singers) and two men on palmas (palms - clapping) who formed the percussion section. Another electrifying hour that passed all too quickly. For Joaquín, three dances required three costumes, not just for theatrical effect, but to cope with the sweat that his energy and attack generated, especially the final dance which just went on and on, endlessly varied in pace and posture, and seemingly unending. But sadly, end it finally did and we left for home at one in the morning - fortunately just a three of four minute walk away. One final piece of explanation of how flamenco developed to what it is today. It began as song, pure and simple. The rhythm that carried the song was provided by the foot tapping and clapping of the listeners. To this also were added the sounds of the bastón, a staff or walking stick pounded on the ground, and the cajón, a box used as a drum, though a box which has become more and more sophisticated down the years. The guitar did not appear until well into the nineteenth century and served two purposes - to provide the rhythm accompaniment and also to provide a counterpoint (but always a subsidiary one) to the singer’s voice. Not until the middle years of the twentieth century did the guitar become a solo instrument of flamenco.


Sparsely Populated Or Not, This Is A Serious Fire

Only half an hour later, but this fire has grown rapidly and is the biggest I can recall in the six years we have lived here. Thankfully it is headed into the sierra and so away from other than the occasional, isolated property, though that's no consolation to any owner in its path.

Not A Volcano!

Today we have the first fire of the season, and it looks like a big one. It's a long way from us and is travelling away from us. The area is sparsely populated and any villages are downwind, so although a couple of small planes are buzzing around, there are no helicopters which are the weapon of choice.I suspect the main effort will be to control the direction of spread, but otherwise let it burn itself out in its own time.


Eating On The Shores Of The Mediterranean

There is much talk these days about the benefits of what is referred to as The Mediterranean Diet, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, pulses and oil, especially olive oil; by contrast it is a diet low in dairy products and low in meat. It is broadly the diet which we follow here, not out of any particular health concerns, though I have my Type 2 Diabetes to bear in mind, and I had my little run-in with cancer last year, but because it tastes so good. In this we are helped by the fact that there are many things we can get here that either would not be available in England, or would be prohibitively expensive. Here, for instance, we can easily pop artichokes, avocados and a whole variety of different types of tomatoes into the trolley, not to mention large, gnarled and beautifully tasty red and green bell peppers which would be rejected by British supermarkets. In the summer we can add to the list Pimientos de Padrón, small peppers that look like green chillies, but are actually mild (apart from the odd one that catches you unawares and rocks you back on your heels, but that’s part of the fun) and are shallow fried in oil until the skins are charred, then tipped out into a dish and sprinkled with a generous dose of coarse sea salt. You then sit around and eat them chatting with friends with good fresh bread to accompany them and mop up the juices. Fruit, too, has its novelties - chirimoyas and paraguayos being two. The chirimoya is a strange fruit which looks as if it is covered in scales, a bit like an artichoke and the skin is the same colour. In fact the skin is faceted with brown lines. To eat it, you simply slice it in half vertically and eat it with a spoon, discreeetlyy spitting out the large black stones that are the only drawback. In English they are often called custard apples because their flavour tastes a bit like both. The paraguayo looks just like a small peach squashed down into a hopeless doughnut, and indeed it belongs to the peach family. These fruits, along with apricots, nectarines and several varieties of peach, are seasonal and one of the pleasures is seeing them reappear on the supermarket shelves each year. Mangos are also grown locally, but are also imported and so are available all year round, but the price is a fraction of what we used to pay in the UK, so a typical weeks shopping would include at least a couple. Of course, there are also apples, pears, bananas, strawberries and raspberries, but we tend to favour the more tropical fruits. Spain is also a major producer of citrus fruits, which are both plentiful and cheap, so much so that each week we pick up a couple of 2kg nets of oranges for juicing each morning as part of breakfast, and there are always limes and lemons on hand at home for adding to a G & T, or juicing into a salsa or tagine. As I read this back, I realise that actually there is an awful lot to be said about the Mediterranean diet. I allowed myself several posts to introduce you to the world of Spanish wine. I shall now do the same for the food of the Mediterranean. It is so much more than just Spanish, Italian or Greek!


Priego de Córdoba

June 13th is the feast day of San Antonio de Padua, patron of Frigiliana, and so for four days the fairground is in town, a marquee goes up in the main plaza and the merriment begins. All well and good, but our home is only 200 metres maximum from all of this, and so we are particularly conscious of the the thump, thump, thump of the bass beat on the fairground rides, and of the disco music and live group music issuing from the marque. The fairground stops at about 1am, but the disco carries on until 5 or even 6 o'clock in the morning. So this year we decided to go away. We chose Priego de Córdoba, a town about two hours drive away in the Sierra Subbética of Córdoba Province. It is a town of around 20,000 people renowned for its collection of churches in the Baroque style. Following the Reconquest of 1492, and the expulsion of the Arabs - especially the silk farmers, weavers and merchants, Priego became the Christian centre of the silk industry and until the arrival of artificial silk in the nineteenth century, it was a prosperous city. This is reflected in some superb architecture along the length of Calle Rio, then the homes of the merchants, and now housing the professional district of lawyers and architects. The whole area of interest to the visitor is contained within a fairly compact space that calls for no more than ten or fifteen minutes to walk it from end to end, which we did for two days. The hotel I flagged up in my previous posting, and I can thoroughly recommend it for a short stay. It is a typical Córdoban style house, built around a central patio, and the ground floor houses a modern Arab hammam or bathhouse with steam room, and cold, tepid and hot pools; you can also book a massage by the pool side. The restaurants worth visiting are all within a five minute walk of the hotel, and all serve typical, Córdoban dishes. Menus are similar wherever you choose, whether in content or in quality, so you can choose on the basis of the people-watching potential of the terrace. Then on Sunday, my satnav led us across country on a very scenic country road back to Málaga and then to Frigiliana in plenty of time for the midnight firework display that closed the feria.


A Few Days Away

I'll have more to say when we get home, but just to say that we have found a fantastic little hotel - complete with Arab baths and massage - in the heart of the old quarter of Priego de Córdoba. Also made the acquaintance of some genuine north-eastern friendliness to add a human touch.
Watch this space.


Change At The Top

It has been an interesting couple of weeks to me. People, and things to do with people have always fascinated me and there are few pleasures greater than sitting in the sun with a coffee, a beer or maybe a glass of wine and watching people going about their daily lives. And then there are what I might describe as the set pieces, an important group of which is politics; people expressing their hopes, desires, frustrations and converting that into voting - or not. So first we had the European elections, where the major parties in the UK and here in Spain had an uncomfortable ride. And then King Juan Carlos announced that he was stepping down in favour of his son, Felipe. My first thought, shared by many Spaniards that I know was, “Why now?” The previous king, Alfonso XIII, the present king’s grandfather, also abdicated in 19331 and went into exile, being replaced by the Second Republic, which in turn was overthrown by a military coup followed by the Civil War from 1936 to 1939, from which Franco emerged as the dictator, holding power until his death in 1975. At that point, Juan Carlos who had been groomed by Franco to succeed him ascended to the throne. To everyone’s surprise - and no doubt to Franco’s also if he was watching from another place - he rejected the role envisaged for him by Franco and declared his intention to introduce a democratic constitution to Spain, with his own role reduced to that of constitutional head of state, outside politics and with no powers of his own. When, two years later, a Civil Guard colonel led his men into the chamber of the House of Deputies during a debate and began firing shots into the air, the King donned his military uniform and as head of the armed forces went onto television and ordered all armed forces to remain in their barracks, or if they had left the barracks to return there immediately. The attempted coup collapsed and Juan Carlos’s acceptance by the Spanish people was cemented. Sadly, of late the Spanish have become increasingly disillusioned with their king. He has not become any less of a democrat, but he has been less sensitive than was wise to the hardships suffered by his people in the recent economic crisis. His reputation was not improved when he fell and broke his hip at the height of the crisis. You might expect this to generate sympathy; unfortunately, he fell in Botswana during a luxury holiday, shooting elephants. More recently, his son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarín, has become embroiled in a fraud and money-laundering scandal which at one point threatened to incriminate the Infanta Cristina, the king’s younger daughter. Add to this the fact that he is now 76 and not in the best of health, and abdication seems quite a sensible move. Even so, why now? Well, that may not be entirely unconnected to the shock suffered by the two main political parties in the European elections. Both suffered a significant loss of share of the vote to smaller parties, and for the first time Partido Popular and Partido Socialista Obrera Espannol failed to secure 50% of the vote between them. Most striking of all, Podemos (We Can), a party formed only three months ago, secured five of the Spanish seats in Brussels. Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister and Leader of PP, has survived, but his opposite number at PSOE, Alfredo Rubalcaba, has resigned. Am I being cynical when I suggest that maybe a distraction was needed? Whatever, despite murmurings from republicans, it looks as if we shall have a new king and queen on June 19th, Felipe and Letizia. Interestingly, they have a similar image to William and Kate in Britain. Each royal heir has met and married a woman from outside the realms of European royalty or aristocracy, and each wife brings not just fresh blood but also fresh insights and understandings to their future role.



The 1st June heralds the effective start of the long, dry Andalusian summer, even though the official start of summer is 21st June. This year we welcome the new month with a procession of thunderstorms and periods of heavy rain, some accompanied by hail. I now have to wait apprehensively to see how my seedling chilis have fared; the tubs are waterlogged and several leaves have been stripped off by the hail. If the worst comes to the worst, I shall have to head for the garden centre and buy some plants, but usually there is little or no choice of variety, nor are the plants that are on sale identified.So for a day or two, it's going to be a matter of keeping my fingers crossed.


Where There's A Will There's A Way

This Sunday the Spanish go to the polls to vote in elections to the European Parliament, and so voting slips have begun arriving in our mailbox from the various political parties. I have to say, they are not very helpful. The list gives the names of all those on the party's list of candidates from which, depending on the share of the vote gained, MEPs will be selected. Unfortunately they say absolutely nothing about the candidates, not even whereabouts in Spain they might be found. In addition there is a sheet in the envelope which sets out in the very briefest of terms what the party stands for.

The expectation is that two parties will dominate the results, PSOE (socialist) and PP (conservative). Both parties are deeply unpopular, but there are no credible alternatives to make inroads into their hegemony. In the same way, national, regional and provincial governments are either PSOE or PP led. The minor parties are either out towards the extremes like IU ( united left, a grouping of communist and anarchist parties) or regional like PA ( the Andalucian Party), which I support in local elections, and which runs the town hall in Frigiliana and a handful of other towns. Otherwise, these are small parties with big ambitions but few converts, like UPyD (calling for a complete reform of the democratic process in Spain to give a more effective voice to the ordinary citizen). A cynical analysis of Spanish politics describes a vicious circle which I suspect would find a sympathetic response from many British voters; I shall give you the less coarse version.

You elect PSOE

They screw you, so

You elect PP

They screw you, so

You elect PSOE

Continue ad infinitum.

A friend in Madrid explained to me his predicament as someone disillusioned with both main parties. He has no desire to vote for either, but is not drawn towards any of the minor parties either. So he could abstain from voting. But that would be of advantage to the main parties because their active supporters will find it easier to build up their percentage share of the vote, which gets them more seats. Alternatively, he could register a 'voto en blanco'. This apparently means that you take into the booth the envelope given to you to hold your voting slip. You seal it without putting any slip inside, then emerge and post it into the ballot box. Unfortunately, this also benefits the two major parties. Although the envelope is empty it counts as a valid vote; minor parties must achieve a minimum of 3% of the votes cast in order to qualify for any seats. Your valid vote makes it harder for them by increasing the number of votes cast, and therefore increasing the number of votes needed to achieve 3%. He has a solution, however; the 'voto nul'. You take the envelope into the booth and place in it TWO party slips, seal it and pop it into the ballot box. That is not allowed, and so your vote is not valid and is not counted. I must admit that I admire the ingenuity. 


Graduate Exodus

The article today in El País in English makes sufficiently worrying reading that I have posted the link to it below. My life as a retired person is comfortable. That of many in the host community is not.


El Día de la Cruz (The Day of the Cross)

May 3rd is celebrated each year as El Día de la Cruz. All over the village. people get together to make and decorate large floral crosses, which they then put on display in their neighbourhood or barrio. Musicians and dancers then make their way from cross to cross playing and dancing at each stop, and then partaking of the snacks which are on hand for those who come to admire the handiwork - the local wine, and various traditional, local tit-bits like chorizo, morcilla, tortilla and dulces or sweetmeats. These photos give you a flavour (forgive the pun) of the day.


So, What DID I Cook At Home On Saturday Evening?

Going from the sublime to the pedestrian, on Saturday evening I looked at what was available that needed eating up, and then condiered how to turn it into a meal. The majority of what are considered traditional Spanish dishes are based in a history of poverty and frugality which comes in very useful on such occasions. I had a couple decent sized potatoes, some onions, garlic- obviously, half a red pepper and a fennel bulb. There were other things as well, of course, but these were the ingredients I chose.
So off I went; garlic peeled and chopped, one onion peeled, cut from top to bottom then sliced in half moons, ditto the fennel, and the red pepper cut into strips. Now a generous quantity of olive oil into a deepish frying pan and gently fry the onion, fennel and pepper. Then add the garlic and slice the potatoes into rounds about half a centimetre thick, lay them on top of the other ingredients and then just cover in chicken stock (nothing fancy, just a stock cube dissolved in boiling water), pop a lid on and leave to simmer gently for half an hour. Finally, remove the lid, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid by about three quarters and then season with salt and pepper, serve and savour - and that is Patatas a lo Pobre, poor man's potatoes.


Fine Dining In Frigiliana

I have "borrowed" this photo from the FaceBook page of El Mirador, Frigiliana. Today I had intended to write about what I cooked at home yesterday evening. Then, this morning I changed my mind and thought I would write about how the rain washed out the Easter Sunday procession. Then - in that same rain - we walked up through the village to our favourite restaurant for an Easter Sunday lunch.
So now I have to tell you that this restaurant has a new chef, with a new menu, and has raised its game to a whole new level. My starter, a carpaccio of scallops dressed with chili amarilla (from Peru), Japanese Kombu and served with an Asian salad was astoundingly good. It was topped only by my main course - seared red tuna sashimi. My wfe was equally impressed by her warm chicken salad, followed by duck breast with foie gras.
On Trip Advisor, El Mirador usually trails in at around 12th out of forty plus village eateries, which is hugely misleading; the majority of visitors to the village are looking for either a) typical everyday Spanish food, b) a decent children's menu, c) reassuringly English food and/or d) modest prices. El Mirador offers none of these and so scores low. It offers a standard of food, service and location that you will rarely encounter outside Spain's major cities, and a wine list to match. I can't think of anywhere outside possibly Málaga where you would find a Vega Sicilia listed. El Mirador lists three, 1995, 1996 and 1997. For meaningful comparisons you have to look much wider than Frigiliana; this is now one of the top restaurants in the Province of Málaga, and it's worth travelling to.


Family Time

Mummy and Aunty Nicky have gone for a proper Spanish meal, so Grandma and Grandad have the pleasure of our granddaughters' company.


Una Pregunta

Hace seis años empezé este blog principalmente para mi interés personal, observando como me encontraba viviendo en un pueblo de Andalucía, pero también para hacer conocer a mis amigos y amigas en el Reino Unido algo de la gente, la cultura, las costumbres y tal de mi nuevo hogar. Actualmente la cifra de visitas a mi blog ha pasado 7.500, la mayoría desde el Reino Unido, los EE.UU,y España, pero una menoría de diversos países por todo el mundo.

Un cambio profunda y personal durante estos años ha sido como ha crecido mi dominio del español. Al principio intentaba escribir dos blogs, uno en inglés, el otro en castellano; muy ambicioso, pero fuera de mi capacidad. El blog castellano murió antes de cumplir su primer año.

La pregunta que ahora dirijo a mis lectores españoles es, ¿pensáis que es hora para dar luz otra vez a un blog en español? y si sí, ¿de qué debería tratar? Me alegro de antemano de recibir vuestr@s respuestas.


Home Thoughts From Abroad

People sometimes ask me what I miss about England now that I live in Spain. There are a number of food items which I like and can't get over here, but they are something to look forward to on my visits. So usually my answer is that to be honest, I don't miss anything. But a couple of days ago I was sorting through my files of photos and came across this one, and there was something staring me in the face. You do not get these vibrant, spring-like greens in Spain; Spanish greens are all much darker, more muted and frequently dusty. I was struck by Robert Browning's famous lines, which now that March is over, I reproduce here along with the photo. Oh, to be in England Now that April's there, And whoever wakes in England Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England - now!


A City Break By Bus

Last week we had three nights staying at a hotel in Málaga to celebrate the latest in a long line of wedding anniversaries (but not a ‘special’ one). As pensioners in possession of “65+” cards we are entitled to half fare on intercity buses, so of course that was how we travelled. Apart from cost, this has the advantage that you don’t have to scour the city centre looking for a parking place. We had a broad plan in mind. In the past couple of years the innermost basin of Málaga Port has been completely revamped as a leisure area - gardens, bars, restaurants and shops on the wharves, leisure craft in the basin, and so we wanted to explore it. Also a couple of years ago, Baroness Carmen Von Thyssen consigned a huge part of her art collection to a new museum in Málaga, which also sounded worth a visit. Then, shortly we before we set the dates, friends told us of two more museums that we really had to see (though I have to admit that I wasn’t convinced), oh and I wanted to visit the Church of the Sacred Heart, home to the city’s Jesuit priests. A full itinerary as you can see, which is why we decided that three nights was the solution. The port area (Muelle Uno and Muelle Dos, if you ever want to find it) was a bit ‘curate’s egg’ - good in parts, though one part, a restaurant by the name of Kaleido was impressive enough to register much more than ‘good’. The Carmen Thyssen Museum was very interesting. The part of her collection which she has loaned long-term to Málaga is devoted to Spanish artists of the 18th and 19th century, and shows a very different style to the rest of Europe. But the two highlights were the museums that I had felt lukewarm about. The Málaga Automobile Museum is housed in the former, historic tobacco factory, a splendid building in itself. Several hundred cars are on display, arranged by era - Belle Epoque, Roaring Twenties, Art Deco, Swiniging Sixities, up to experimental vehicles of the 21st century. In each era the cars are accompanied by mannequins dressed in the styles of that era, and in addition there is a hall of hats and another of original, haute couture fashions of the whole period covered. The cars themselves have been restored to a superb standard, and to top things off, there are exhibits of what I suppose you would want to call ‘automotive art’. The Museum of Glass and Crystal must be nigh on unique. Hidden away in a small square in the historic quarter of Málaga, it is housed in an 18th century. middle class house built on three floors around a large internal patio. The house is the home of the museum’s owner who has sought out and bought every piece on display, not just glassware and crystal, but furniture contemporary with the various exhibits, and an extensive collection of stained glass windows, beautifully mounted in heavy wooden frames, and back-lit; many have been rescued from redundant churches,due for demolition in Britain. The museum would be fascinating just to walk round, but you are greeted by the owner and conducted on a guided visit where the history and appeal of the collection is fully explained. At times this can be a little demanding as he explains everything in English, spoken with a pronounced French accent, delivered at Spanish speed. There are many family portraits decorating the walls, as well as many family pieces of furniture. I got the impression that this gentleman of obvious wealth - one large display cabinet is full of Lalique, for instance - is indeed a gentleman at least, and seems to have links to several important European families. I am delighted not to have missed it.


A Journey Into A complex Past

Carnaval is over. Holy Week and Easter are still some weeks away. This, in the Christian church is the season of Lent ( or La Cuaresma, as it is known in Spanish), the season that commemorates the forty days which by tradition, Jesus spent in the desert following his baptism in the Jordan. But preparations to mark Holy Week continue, and so on Friday evening we went to thepregón, the revealing of the image which will be used on all the printed material - posters, programmes, arm bands, and the like. It was also the occasion for the recently restored masks representing the twelve disciples, and which are worn during the Holy Week processions. I must admit that that was my main reason for attending. These papier-mâché masks date all the way back to the 17th century, and we are fortunate not only that they have survived in such good shape over the past four hundred years, but they survived at all chaos and church sackings that accompanied the early months of the Civil War; they are a rare survival and the village is rightly proud to have and to use them. I have always found them impressive despite the accumulation of grime down the years and the yellowing of the varnish. I was apprehensive as to what restoration would have made of them. It has been a long, painstaking labour of love by a highly-regarded specialist restorer. Apparently, when first shown the maskshe was horrified, not by the external aspects, but by the inner surfaces. “How”, he apparently asked, “could people put their faces inside these masks!” Down the centuries it was not only the varnish which had aged and yellowed; the inner surface of each mask had become ever more heavily ingrained with the sweat and oils of the wearers. They were absolutely filthy, which I suppose says much about the devotion of those chosen to wear them each year. The work is complete and it is a revelation. All the human detritus has been cleaned from inside, the old varnish and dirt of the outer surfaces removed, and miraculously given their construction material, they now look once again as they would have done when first crafted in the seventeenth century. It was well worth taking the trouble to be there for their unveiling. We were also treated to a saeta by a young woman of the village who is noted for her ability to sing cante hondo or deep song. The word ‘deep’ here refers to the depths of faith and feeling that infuse the saeta. In every day parlance a saeta is an arrow, and here it represents a song of deep sorrow and grief, aimed like an arrow at Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a message of empathy in her sufferings. The dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy ( the Spanish equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary) tells us that the word ‘flamenco’ refers to the region of Flanders and indicates a musical form which has migrated from there to Spain. Rubbish. Cante hondo is totally and utterly from the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and the countries of the Maghreb, North Africa. In it you can hear Jewish and Arabic roots with not a hint of European; I detect a touch of politics in the official etymology. The photograph is of this year's "cartel" for Holy Week.


The Sun Shone On Carnaval

Saturday the village was alive to the throbbing of the samba band leading the procession - or pasacalles, as it is called - through the streets of Frigiliana. The official start was scheduled for five o'clock, but such times are always aspirations rather than actual targets, and so it was just before six when the drumming started. I didn't have such a good vantage point as I managed to grab last year, but was still able to take one or two good shots.



"Littlies Day" at Carnaval!

Tomorrow is for adults, but no one gets left out, so today the children from the guardería (nursery) get their parade through the village. Acknowledgements to Kevin Wright for the photo.


A Little Ingenuity

One of the defining characteristics of a village situated on the side of a mountain is that in order to go from A to B or back again, you have to contend with steep gradients. Level stretches of road are few and far between. Even the main street through the old part of the village rises steadily until almost at the town hall, and then descends equally steadily until it emerges from the far end of the village. This, of course, is something that we are used to and which we take in our stride, if you will excuse the expression. However, I have been affected by long-acting hormone injections which I must now have every six months, and which have the effect of reducing muscle mass, so that my ability to play the mountain goat has been adversely affected. For the last six months I have been telling myself that I need to compensate by taking more exercise and walking further. Saying it, but not doing it. In September it was sitll too hot, then in October we had some rain, in November I was in England for three weeks, and in December we had gale force winds for most of the month. This year, I have been discouraged by cold, by wet, and by the fresh bout of gales rolling through this region. And all the time, I slip a bit further back, and a bit further. Something had to be done, but what. Well this weekend I found a solution. Our house stands on top of another one. Logically, you would say that it is a top floor apartment (un piso or un ático), but I am assured that this cannot be because picos and áticos all share a common entrance with other units in the block, whereas we have a separate and private entrance from the street. So even though we sit neatly atop Dolores’s two storey casa, we too live in a house (una casa). From our separate entrance we then have to climb twenty eight steps to reach the door to our living room. Suddenly it dawned upon me that being an internal staircase it is wind, rain, and cold proof. It has a 20 cm riser, giving over 5 metres of climb in total. To require some proper exertion though I need to climb the steps, then head straight back downstairs and climb straight back up again, by which point I am breathing heavily. Five “doubles” spread over the course of a day adds up to an impressive 56 metres of climb every day, not a marathon but it will do for now!


A Brief Lull In Proceedings

This is the just about the quietest time of the year. Christmas, New Year, the Three Kings and the Fiesta de San Sebastián are behind us and Carnaval is still two weeks away. At the same time, although we have now started to get some lovely warm, sunny days, they are in the nature of false starts, and are quickly followed by colder, greyer and windier days. On the other hand, the sun is now setting discernibly later than it was at the end of last year. It is one of the consolations of winter here that we are far enough south for the days always to be longer between October and March than they are in the UK. I see that where my daughters live in the South of England, the sun sets at 5.30 in the evening. Even on the shortest day, our sunset came just after 6 o’clock. Now we are still in daylight at 7.30. This weekend heralds half-term in the UK, so we can expect to see an influx of families with children into the area over the weekend, then, as I say, Carnaval will arrive, celebrated down in Nerja next Saturday and Sunday, and here in the village the following Saturday. A couple of weeks or so after that, the clocks will go forward, the windy days will become less frequent and it will be well and truly spring again. And at Easter we have the family coming out to stay for a few days.


Breaking Old Habits and Forming New Ones

We are missing UK TV channels remarkably little. There are particular programmes, like Pointless and QI which I would like to be able to watch, but it would seem that we spent a lot of time watching programmes just because they were on. Now that they aren’t it’s actually no big deal. Which is not to say that we have entirely kicked the UK TV habit; we still have Sky News, one dose of which is quite sufficient in any single day, and it is possible that when the three new satellites are in place and settled down, we may be able to realign our dish to pick up their output. We ahall see. Meantime, my Spanish and moribund French are benefiting from the website i mentioned last time. And I have had an opportunity to pick up another of my interests which had been lying dormant. I am slowly building a comprehensive genealogical database for both my own and my wife’s families. Recently I have been burrowing into the available online information to fill out the details of my paternal grandfather’s siblings and their families. I had a very productive session yesterday. I don’t know whether my daughters will appreciate the news, but I have identified thirteen new third cousins for them.


A Sunny Smile

I've just finalised my choice of six photos to enter into the annual exhibition of a camera club which I joined back in September of last year, so I thought I'd give you a preview. Hope you like it.


Oh Dear, It's Started!

Well, the axe has fallen. Thursday morning I switched on the television to watch the BBC’s Breakfast programme and - no BBC. Overnight all the channels had been migrated to the new satellite, so I am now suffering the withdrawal symptomms of a keen Pointless fan. We are told that ITV and Channel Four will be migrating on Tuesday, so as from Wednesday the free to air channels that we have enjoyed since arriving here six years ago will be no more. There is a single ray of hope. We have a large dish and it is possible that it can be aligned to the new satellites so that some channels at least can be restored. I have left an SMS with Dirk the Dutch guy who specialises in satellite TV installations and await a response. Mind you, with so many people affected that could be quite a while. Fortunately, I have found a new obsession to fill those empty hours; a website called www.duolingo.com provides free learning of a range of European languages. I was dubious, as they say that not only are there no charges, but no ads either. So, how do they make their money. That turns out to be simple and ingenious. More advanced learners are given complex translation tasks to complete. These documents are sourced from commercial clients who are buying translation services. An algorithm combines all ‘solutions’ to a particular document and from the resulting data is able to produce a high quality version in the target language. I’m ploughing through levels of Spanish at the moment until I get to my current level and can start to move forward again, but I have also started to resurrect a long dead French A-Level, and may follow up later with refiving my German. And Portugal is only just down the road, so to speak, so maybe I’ll give Portuguese a go. Who needs British television!


Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

There is a certain amount of anxiety right now among British expats living in the south of Spain. With a suitable dish - mine is 1.25 metres diameter - we can watch television programmes from the UK. The satellites used for UK television have such a wide footprint that it extends right down to the southernmost parts of Spain. Unfortunately these satellites are coming to the end of their active life and so they are to be replaced by a new array of Astra satellites, beaming from a slightly different geostationary position. Critically though, in order to provide a higher quality of transmission for the UK, it will operate on a much smaller footprint. There were a number of delays in launching the new satellites and then moving them into position. That process is now complete and final testing is taking place before channels start to migrate to their new homes. At that point it is likely that the signals will no longer reach us and so we shall find ourselves withut UK programmes, certainly among those of us who rely on the free to air channels. The difficulty is accessing accurate information; the only people bringing us the latest ‘news’ have a vested interest in selling us their solution, so my own solution is to wait and see what happens. Through the summer months sich a loss would be a minor iconvenience as we watch very little television then. Through the dark winter evenings though, when people tend not to be out and about socialising, there is a certain comfort to be drawn from keeping up with your favourite British programmes. How much longer will we be able to draw on that comfort? Who knows.


Does Anyone Know Where I Can Buy Some Earplugs?

When it rains heavily our street turns into a gushing torrent, with waterfalls cascading down the steps that lead to the main street. And heading in the other direction, the street climbs very steeply to join another road. The slope is surfaced with concrete which, over the years, has cracked, broken up and been patched up. It's not quite an outdoor climbing wall, but not far off!
Well, today the work begins to put all of this right, which of course involves bringing down a tracked vehicle with a jack hammer on the front to smash the existing surface before laying new drains that will carry rainwater underground for the entire length of the street, to properly resurface the slope and to construct steps down one side of the slope to make going up and down easier. All very welcome, but just at the moment, very noisy as well.


Shedding Layer

What a difference a week can make. This weekend the sun is shining, the wind has gone and my sweater is back in the drawer - well, in the laundry basket actually, but after that it will hopefully be put away. The temperature is 20 degrees, just like yesterday. Soon I'll be off to the airport to hear what kind of weather my wife has enjoyed in Surrey.


Sturm und Drang

The lightning flashed, the thunder exploded through the night sky and the rain came down like water from a garden hose. Last night was a night which announced unequivocally that the winter rains have arrived. It was a storm and a half, and this morning as I set off to take my wife to the airport for her flight to England, there were drifts of hailstones on the verges of the road from the ullage down to the motorway. Weather like this will alarm those holidaymakers who are here for a post-Christmas break, but it is long overdue and welcome for the residents. Although far from critical, the reservoirs are well down on where they should be just now. Partly this is due to the lack of rain to fill them up, but also because the farmers have been having to irrigate their land for much longer than they would want to, which is an expensive task. Water directly from the sky is free, after all. It is still raining, on and off at the moment and quite heavily, too. The forecast suggests that there is much more of the same to come over the next two weeks at the very least. With the rains comes a sharp drop in temperatures, a fact often not appreciated by our friends back in the UK; or by the politicians for that matter. Our highest temperature today, round about now, is 12 degrees. Overnight it will drop well down into single figures. So our aircon units are on for most of the day and all evening, blowing warm air through the house, which is why we are thankful for our winter fuel allowance, which I know many people think we should not be entitled to. But set against your colder winter climate than ours, we have no fireplace, no central heating, no cavity insulation (there is no cavity), no loft insulation (there is also no loft, just the flat roof that on the underside is our ceiling) and only partial double-glazing. We are not exceptional; that is standard for Andalucian houses. So despite the fact that we need the rains, it will be good to get to the other side of this season and feel the temperatures start to climb again.


Out With The Old, In With The New

The end of one year and the beginning of another; a time to which we humans ascribe great importance. Which is strange when you bear in mind that the whole business of time is a human creation. However, it does seem to be a time for looking back and looking forward. With advancing years you tend to look back further, and so it is that I have been pondering on the changes that I have seen. I recall, for instance, that in my early teens with my life before me, I thought that I would consider myself to be very fortunate if I were to live to see the year 2000. Taken in the context of general life expectancy in the 1950s, that was not being unduly pessimistic. Nor was I unduly lacking in ambition when I thought that the prospect of one day being able to earn £1,000 a year was ample justification for becoming a teacher. I never did become a theacher (well, not a qualified one) but that is another story. In my earlier adult life I was struck by the amount of change which my grandparents had had to accommodate to during their lifetimes, not least of which was surviving two world wars, in the first of which my paternal grandfather was wounded and decorated at Gallipoli, and then invalided out of the army. Nevertheless, he lived into his eighties, as did my grandmother. I think now that the things I would have considered the major changes - television, widespread private car ownership, air travel - only really impinged on the end of their lives and were not anyway of any great interest to either of them. Looking back now on my own life, my generation has experienced much greater and much more rapid change. This was brought home to me in fact when my youngest brother died nearly five years ago. The call to go to his hospital bedside came through on a Saturday afternoon. Within 24 hours, I had driven up to Beziers from Spain, his two sons had flown in from the UK, followed later the same day by my other brother. This was possible because of innovations during my lifetime - we all had telephones, fixed and mobile, and so could be contacted easily; we all had computers with internet access, and so were about to shop online for flights, which were paid for by credit card. Sat nav guided my wife and me to the hospital car park. The existence of the EU meant that frontiers were simply crossed without being aware of them. And all of this at the weekend, when in previous times everywhere would have been closed. Not even my parents, let alone my grandparents, could have made sense of all that. So when I look forward through 2014 and beyond I am mainly conscious of two things; change will continue in ways that I can’t predict, and it will apparently change at an ever-increasing pace. What will my own grandchildren one day hold up as examples of what Grandma and Grandad could never have imagined?